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23 Nov 2007

exclusion from non-discrimination bill mobilises korea's LGBT community

South Korean queers have responded forcefully to the anti-gay Christian fundamentalist lobby's efforts to remove them from a landmark non-discrimination bill currently being reviewed by lawmakers. Matt Kelley reports from Seoul.

Several times I have been told that there are no gay Koreans. Fourteen years after Korea's first LGBT organisation was founded, the overwhelming majority of the nation's queers still hide their sexual orientation from family, friends and coworkers. So, unless it's Saturday night in the Seoul districts of Jongno, Sinchon or on Itaewon's "Homo Hill," it's easy to see why many heterosexual Koreans assume the "gay gene" somehow bypassed their peninsula.

Members of Korea's LGBT community have mobilised themselves to protest the anti-gay Christian fundamentalist lobby's attempt to expressly remove them from the nation's landmark non-discrimination bill. The Bill has since been withdrawn for further study and revision, and is expected to be re-released on Nov 27 before coming to a vote in March 2008. Photos by lgbtact.org
But this month, hundreds of Korean iban - as they are known locally - convened to attend emergency meetings, to unfurl large rainbow banners across Seoul's busiest streets, and to rally outside the Blue House, the official residence of Korea's president. Their protests were inspired by the exclusion of gays and lesbians from an historic non-discrimination bill currently under consideration by lawmakers.

A growing number of foreigners and Koreans alike feel marginalised by how the country's Confucian heritage perpetuates sexist and classist attitudes. In a groundbreaking move intended to encourage social unity, on Oct 2, the South Korean Ministry of Justice (MOJ) announced a bill to criminalise discrimination on 20 grounds, including race, sex, educational status and sexual orientation. Described by the MOJ as "the first fundamental law to actualise the principle of equality, which appears on the Constitution," the law would punish direct and indirect discrimination in the areas of employment, services and education.

But when the draft bill was sent from the MOJ to the Ministry of Government Legislation on its journey toward ratification, seven of the bill's original 20 protections had disappeared. Suddenly, medical history, nationality, language, family type, educational status, criminal or detention record, and sexual orientation were no longer protected classes.

Whereas business interests had advocated for the removal of some groups, it was South Korea's powerful conservative Christian lobby that pressured the Korean Ministry of Justice to exclude civil rights guarantees for sexual minorities.

In October, a group calling itself the Assembly of Scientists Against Embryonic Cloning distributed a petition warning Korean lawmakers that if the non-discrimination bill was passed, "homosexuals will try to seduce everyone, including adolescents; victims will be forced to become homosexuals; and sexual harassment by homosexuals will increase."

According to the group's director, Pusan University Professor Gill Wonpyong, "If homosexuality is allowed, the morals of [Korean] society will immediately collapse and the society will become a world of animals."

Lee Chung Woo, one of Korea's gay rights' pioneers, says that Korean Christian groups are adopting the successful strategies of right-wing religious fanatics in the United States, who exploited widespread ignorance of LGBT issues to achieve their larger political goals.

Unlike some of its Asian neighbours, the South Korean Constitution and Civil Penal Code do not criminalise homosexuality. However, gay men are banned from serving in the military and widespread anti-gay bias in Korean society compels most LGBT Koreans to hide their sexual orientation.

While there have been other issues that mobilised Korea's LGBT community, it was the anti-gay Christian fundamentalist lobby's attempt to expressly remove them from the nation's landmark non-discrimination bill that elicited an unusually potent response. Although South Korea's queer activists are often unwilling to be photographed or filmed, during the protests several of them spoke on camera to national and international media.

In one press release, Han Chae Yoon, the co-chair of the Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC) and a Korean LGBT community spokesperson, said: "We are saddened that extremist groups have hijacked this important bill. Lesbian and gay Koreans are your daughters, sons, neighbours and coworkers." Citing the bill's historic nature, she continued, "This law would protect the dignity and human rights that everyone in Korea deserves."

Because South Korea is a signatory of the main United Nations Human Rights Treaties, which are understood to also protect sexual orientation, Han's group worked with New York-based Human Rights Watch. Together, they drafted a letter to South Korea's lawmakers urging them to reinstate civil rights protections for lesbians, gays and bisexuals, as well as to add protections for transgender and transsexual people.

Although quick passage of the bill was originally expected, the ensuing controversy caused it to be withdrawn on Tuesday for further study and revision. It is expected to be re-released on Nov 27 before coming to a vote in the National Assembly sometime in March 2008.

While the fate of the non-discrimination bill remains unclear, the current controversy may have sparked a new era for Korea's iban community. In their zeal to persecute Korea's typically inconspicuous queer population, the right-wing Christian groups may have inadvertently inspired the next generation of Korean LGBT activists.

Sign online petition to protest the removal of the seven categories (including sexual orientation) in the Anti-Discrimination Bill.

Matt Kelley is a gay mixed-race Korean-American living in Seoul. He is currently writing a book about the intersections of race and sex in Korea. His website: www.mattkelley.info.


1. 2007-11-23 19:39  
As expected, it is the evil spirit's trick to lure the people of this faith to exclude the minorities, which has been the case throughout history, chasing away the people whom God is close to.
2. 2007-11-23 23:58  
The X-tian fundies strike again. These people just don't have anything better to do, do they?
3. 2007-11-24 02:47  
수고 하세요 〔 sugo haseyo 〕
never give up !!
4. 2007-11-24 04:00  
nice korean life..
5. 2007-11-24 06:04  
Disgusting and pathetic. I was 6 months in Korea, and it's an unavoidable fact that this right-wing religious American inspired lobby has a large influence. Its influence increases due to prevailing preconceptions and social norms that were already there. I don't recall any of the Korean gay friends i had having an easy life, it's the opposite. There's a huge pressure to follow the "norms" there. It will take a lot of social activism to bring this down, damn political religion, they are truly appalling. I hope this changes, never quit, since there were never easy victories for us in any country.
6. 2007-11-24 06:42  
There are no gay people in Korea... really. The superiority of Korean genes and the purity of Korean blood have served as counteracting forces to the plague of homosexuality throughout the course of humanity. This is on page one of the history books...
7. 2007-11-24 08:09  
Kudos to the writer and Fridae.com!
8. 2007-11-24 08:59  
Now it all make sense. I was puzzled yet intrigued by some Korean exchange classmates' seeming innocence when they insisted that there were no gay people in Korea.
9. 2007-11-24 13:25  
no gay people, no gay genes in Korea?? Oh REALLY?? Then scientists can use this "pure hetero" Korean blood to develop an anti-gay vaccine and distribute it around the world....right? Then, the so-called christians (whose beliefs and practices do not at all emulate the teachings of Jesus) can move on to the next minority group they plan to hate, persecute, marginalize and destroy. Could we revitalize the Roman tradition of feeding the christians to the lions....or would that be wrong???
10. 2007-11-24 13:31  
Post #2: thank you for that: "X-tian Fundies"....I LOVE it...never again will I refer to them as Christians, or "born again Christians" or "Fundamentalists"...but instead.....
"X-tian Fundies"...in their dirty undies...how ridiculous they are, and how pathetic it is they are so neurotically obsessed by human sexuality, busy spreading their neuroses, and pathologies.
11. 2007-11-24 13:35  
12. 2007-11-24 17:19  
Existentialism differentiates itself from the modern Western rationalist tradition of philosophers such as Descartes in rejecting the idea that the most certain and primary reality is rational consciousness. Descartes argues in his Meditations on First Philosophy that, while humans can doubt almost all aspects of reality as illusions, humans can be certain of their consciousness, which is therefore the only truth ("Cogito ergo sum").

Existentialism decisively rejects this argument, asserting instead that as conscious beings, humans would always find themselves already in a world, a prior context and a history that is given to consciousness, and that humans cannot think away that world. It is inherent and indubitably linked to consciousness. In other words, the ultimate and unquestionable reality is not thinking consciousness but, according to Heidegger, "being in the world". This is a radicalization of the notion of intentionality that comes from Brentano and Husserl, which asserts that, even in its barest form, all consciousness is always a consciousness of something.
14. 2007-11-24 19:45  
"Suddenly, military status, nationality, language, family type, educational status, ideology, appearance, criminal or detention record, and sexual orientation were no longer protected classes"

Frankly, that's a very disturbing sentence in and of itself. Obviously, 'we' have vested interests in equality, and having 'us' restored to the bill. Of course! You cannot have a civilised society that okays picking on people merely because they're the 'wrong' sexuality!

Also, a fundamentally core tenet of most modern first-world societies is that they are extremely respectful of religion - but they are, in essence, secular in nature and governance, and do not follow what religion dictates is 'right'. Korean lawmakers must not allow religious issues to cloud or direct the rule of law, thus promoting intolerance, and it is entirely right and proper that localised opposition and mobilisation by gay groups or concerned individual citizens should swing into action, such as it is.

That said, as an adult, I find it shocking to consider that these would also have been removed - military status, nationality, language, family type, educational status, ideology, appearance, and criminal or detention record. What kind of message is that sending out, to remove those points as well?

Oh, so, would it thus be Lawful and okay to discriminate against, for example, a foreign single-parent who struggled with the native [Korean] language? It's fully fine now to discriminate against someone with the 'wrong' education, or an adult with literacy problems?

Hmmm... I guess that means that, for example, any Filipinas working in the health service or raising spoilt native kids [to pick two wild generalisations with a grain of truth to them] better not get 'uppity', or else!

And can someone explain - or define - what ideology refers to? Does that mean that, if you don't 'think' or 'act' enough like whatever 'Korean' is supposed to be like, it's also okay to discriminate against you?

Yes, it's shocking and offensive to think that 'our' rights would be removed from a bill, marring South Korea's international image as a modern and progressive society. However, the other points are equally abhorrent, and We should be equally vocal in criticising and defending those sections as well.

After all - 'we' can't just be concerned with Gay rights - we have a duty to be concerned with Human Rights as well, and not be an entirely self-serving group. If we only go chasing after 'our' wrongs all the time - as sadly significant as they still are, in too many societies - well, what kind of people are we...
18. 2007-11-25 03:39  

try reading this link, Vercoda. I like your views, but this will elucidate about some questions you left in the air.I assure you it's not exaggerated.
19. 2007-11-26 01:37  
Hahaha... Thank for the laugh.
too bad, Pusan University Professor Gill Wonpyong is not an animal, so we should go investigate or dissect the body of this person to see how this creature is.
20. 2007-11-26 01:47  
poor mind-presently-closed Christians, they have to hate somebody else to get relieved from the pressures and restrains they suffer from.

oh, poor mind-presently-closed Christians, they seem to want other to suffer as well...

The old time victims in the newer generations become influential to be sadistic?
21. 2007-11-26 12:19  
Do these people (conservative "Christians") ever realize that they're giving Christianity a VERY bad name?????
22. 2007-11-26 12:24  
My heart goes out to those struggling in S. Korea...it's a shame that both materialism & misguided 'conservatism' are threatening this beautiful country.



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